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on 13 March 2018
Excellent publication and very pleased to have this particular book in my home collection!
Thank you seller.
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on 12 February 2017
Everthing was fine.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 January 2005
Most people, when they think of the Enlightenment, think first of 18th France, of Voltaire and of Diderot. The late Roy Porter, in his spirited Enlightenment (Penguin paperback) claimed that the roots of the Enlightenment were actually in England. Then we have recently had James Buchan's Capital of the Mind, which claims in its subtitle that the philosophers of Edinburgh "changed the world". Jonathan Israel says that these are all parochial approaches, and that the Enlightenment was a movement whose international character he intends to illustrate. He has indeed read prodigiously in international literature: his bibliography gives 26 pages of published primary sources and 31 of secondary literature, and these include titles in Latin, English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish and Danish.
Nevertheless, what emerges quite clearly from this book is that he places the origins of the Radical Enlightenment very firmly in 17th century Holland in general and in Spinoza in particular; and although one might perhaps expect this from a historian whose previous book was an equally massive work on the Dutch Republic (OUP), he makes a totally convincing case for this. In the course of it we learn much about many Dutch thinkers. Many of them are scarcely known in this country; and there are some, like Anthonie van Dale and Frederik van Leenhof, who according to Professor Israel are almost unknown even in Holland today.
True, it is a Frenchman, René Descartes, who could be said to have planted the seeds of what would become the Enlightenment, and there is a good deal about him in the book; but the principal theatre for the debate about Descartes is again shown to be Holland, where he had moved for safety in 1628, where the Discours de la Méthode was first published in 1637, and from where it later spread to other countries. Indeed, Spinoza's first published work was The Principles of Cartesian Philosophy (1663). I think myself that the title of the book is somewhat misleading. It ought really to have been called Spinoza and the Enlightenment, since it is almost wholly devoted to his influence: all later Enlightenment thinkers of whatever nation are discussed almost exclusively in terms of the extent to which they were in agreement or disagreement with him.

That debate is described in exhaustive - I would say - exhausting - detail, since in fact the various arguments are repeated over and over again. There are principally three parties to this argument: thinkers of the Radical Enlightenment who follow Spinoza more or less all the way; those of the Moderate Enlightenment, who accept a broadly rational approach but stop short of denying a providential deity and the principal mysteries of the Christian faith; and the Conservatives or fideists who demand total acceptance of the traditional doctrines of the churches about such matters as miracles, the existence of Hell and of the Devil. Jonathan Israel patiently gives the arguments of this last group more space than most histories of the Enlightenment would do. Interestingly, many members of even the first group often denied that they were "Spinozists". That label was used by anti-rationalists, right up to eve of the French Revolution in a positively McCarthyist way to discredit even members of the second group, who themselves went out of their way to condemn Spinoza in the strongest terms. The true Spinozists often protected themselves by giving a full statement of the Spinozan positions and then following them with perfunctory or even deliberately feeble objections.
Despite its enormous length and the width of Israel's research, the book does remain rather narrowly focussed. The debates described in the book are largely about religion and about the challenges to deductive rationalism both from the churches and from the pragmatic schools. Such discussion as there is of Enlightenment political thought is again entirely related to the influence of or reaction against Spinoza's unfinished Tractatus Politicus. So, for instance, the debate in France between the thèse royale, the thèse nobiliaire, and democracy does not feature on its own terms. At the end there is an interesting short section on Diderot and his relationship to Spinozism; but there is nothing much of interest on Montesquieu, Voltaire, Helvétius or Holbach, all of whom are considerable figures in the history of the French Enlightenment. And there are just two references to Hume.
There are two other major criticisms: the book takes much previous knowledge for granted (for example, what exactly had been both the psychological and political teaching Thomas Hobbes). Although there are several references to Malebranche and Malebranchisme, there is nowhere a concise account of what that philosopher taught: the "Occasionalism" for which he is famous has just two references in the index, only one of which links that doctrine with him.
However, Professor Israel has undoubteldy written a most important book which significantly shifts the focus of Enlightenment studies. For that and for his immense scholarship he deserves the praise that reviewers have heaped upon his book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 July 2012
Jonathan Israel has written an erudite, extensive, and inspiring study on a seminal moment in Western thought, commonly known as the Age of Enlightenment.In short, the Enlightenment marks a change from a thought and society that was theologically focused to thought and society that were secular and scientific in character. This period and this transition has been much studied, but Israel has many new insights to offer. In addition, he writes a book filled with wonderful detail, with rare thinkers and books that make the reader yearn to learn more. It is an enlightening experience in itself to read this book.

The book begins with the philosophy of Descartes which is widely regarded as overthrowing the philosophy of scholasticism and initiating the modern period. Descartes developed a dualism with a mechanistic philosophy of nature and a spiritual philosophy of mind. It was the first of many attempts to reconcile theology with the newly developed scientific outlook.

But the focus of Professor Israel's study is on Spinoza (1632-1677.) Spinoza rejected Cartesian dualism and developed his philosophy equating God and Nature. He rejected a transcendental God, providence, miracles, revelation, and transcendental bases for human ethics. Spinoza developed his ideas in his Ethics while in his earlier and almost equally important Theological-Political Treatise, Spinoza developed the basis for modern Bible criticism.

Professor Israel argues that Spinoza's thought constitutes the basis for what he terms "radical enlightmentment", which rejected theology and revealed religion in favor of a philosophy of mechanism and determinism. Radical enlightenment proved to be a potent weapon in rejecting the divine right of kings and other forms of privilege, in promoting democracy and the rights of women, in encouraging free speech and free thought, and in allowing people to pursue happiness, in particular sexual fulfillment, in this world without fear of hells and punishments in the next world. Spinoza influenced many scholars and thinkers and also, Israel points out, had substantial influence on unlettered people of his time.

Professor Israel contrasts the Radical Enlightenment emanating from Spinoza with "moderate enlightenment". Moderate enlightenment sought to reconcile mechanism and science with traditional religious faith, to the extent possible. Professor Israel identifies three separate strains of moderate enlightenment: Cartesianism, the monadic philosophy of Leibniz and Wolff, and the deism and empiricism of Locke and Newton. Most of the book is about Radical Enlightenment and its impact and about the interplay between Radical Enlightenment on the one hand and Moderate Enlightenment and traditionalism on the other hand.

The book includes a good basic exposition of the thought of Spinoza. (The exposition of Descartes thought and of the teachings of scholasticism is less thorough.) The major theme of the book is that Spinoza's ideas were not simply those of an isolated recluse; rather, his ideas became widely known and disseminated even during his lifetime, and became the basis for much of the secular, modern thought and life we have today.

Israel discusses a plethora of sources, some well-known some highly obscure in which various thinkers from throughout Europe (another theme of Israel's book is that Enlightenment was European in character and shared essentially the same features in all European countries) adopted and promulgated Spinozistic doctrines. The books and individuals are fascinating, as are the conflicts many of them encountered with civil and religous authorities. He discusses how many writers had to try to present their teachings covertly (i.e. by appearing to criticize Spinozism while in fact advocating it.) in order to attempt to avoid conflict. There are also extended treatments of Leibniz and Locke and their interactions with Radical Enlightenment.

For the most part, Professor Israel avoids explicit comment on the philosophical merits of the many ideas and thinkers he explores. The reader is left to think through the issues on the basis of his descriptions and from the words of the thinkers themselves. It is a fascinating study.

I have long been a student of Spinoza and came away from this book awed by the wealth of learning displayed in this book and by the scope and influence of Radical Enlightenment in the years following Spinoza's death. Philosophically, I came away from this book with a new appreciation of the virtues of Western secularism and with a renewed understanding of the dear price that has been paid for the intellectual liberation of the mind and heart. It is a journey that every person must undertake for him or herself, and many people may reach results that differ from those reached during the age of Radical Enlightenment. Spinoza's goal (shared with the religious thinkers whom he rejected) was to find the path to human blessedness, enlightenment, and happiness by freeing the mind. I got a good sense of the value of this search through reading this masterful book.

Robin Friedman
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VINE VOICEon 6 October 2016
In 1932 Carl Becker gave a series of lectures entitled ‘The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers’ in which he argued that the key words of eighteenth century philosophy - reason, humanity, progress, liberty, perfectibility, natural law - relied much more on Christian assumptions then was admitted by those who agreed with Alexander Pope’s assertion that' the proper study of mankind is man’. In basic terms it replaced Augustine’s idea of ‘The City of God’ with a secularised version as a means of changing the structure of society. However, eighteenth century philosophers had an inherent weakness inasmuch as they assumed by attacking revealed religion and established ecclesiastical privilege they were creating a new kind of person. Diderot wrote, ‘Reason is to the philosopher what grace is to the Christian. Grace moves the Christian to act, reason moves the philosopher’ but in practice the new enlightened individuals were just as prone to violence as the religious fanatics they condemned. While Diderot stressed the freedom of the individual he failed to recognise the impact of human nature in its historical context. As
Bakunin was to point out about Marx all that would happen would be the replacement of one form of oppression by another.

In Israel’s case his new prophet is the seventeenth century philosopher Baruch Spinoza who pantheism provided an alternative to deism, atheism and materialism. This provided an inspiration for philosophers of the eighteenth century to question established religion across Europe and America. He argues that most interpretations of the Enlightenment were parochial in nature whereas the Dutch-based Spinoza offered a universal explanation of reality. Spinoza questioned the the mind-body dualism of Descartes and, in Israel’s view, all Enlightenment thinkers can be judged by whether they were supporters or opponents of Spinoza. Israel’s book is nothing if not comprehensive but such a universal viewpoint inevitably leads to repetition of the basic arguments he puts forward in which he classifies the Radical Enlightenment as Spinozists, moderate rationalists or conservatives. All the debates were concerned with religion and thus tend to ignore a swathe of philosophers for whom philosophy was sociological rather than simply rational. Yet the heart of Enlightenment was sociological and the institutions which governed society. The philosophical attack on such institutions and the religious ideology they defended represented rationalisation rather than reason.

The same is true of Israel. He attributes the Enlightenment to the thinking of Spinoza and compresses as many thinkers as he can into his underlying thesis whether or not it is logical to do so. Given Israel’s extensive knowledge of Dutch history one would have expected a more circumspect approach than an all out Spinoza as the sole source of the Enlightenment approach. The apparent conflict between nature and God led Spinoza to adopt a sceptical approach to revealed religion but in opting for science over religion Spinoza was claiming superiority for scientific laws which are assumed to be true but which may prove to be false, not least because, as Kuhn demonstrated, some scientists want them to be true While Spinoza had many popularisers, especially in Holland his critique of Descartes was just one of many and not necessarily the most important one. David Hume may well not have existed in Israel’s view while advances made in other fields including political economy, medicine, engineering, geology and law are completely ignored. Perhaps this is attributable to the fact that the book ends at 1750 which excludes philosophers whose critique of society was different from that of Spinoza. Doing soalso avoids the embarrassment of the French Revolution Robespierre, Saint Just, the reign of Terror and the Cult of Reason. Despite his claim that the Enlightenment was universal in impact it showed very different characteristics in different nations.

Far from being enlightening the Enlightenment provided an alternative worldview without acknowledging the role of human nature in changes in attitude. Far from being new it merely reinforced retrospectively a liberal interpretation of society. This included the sexual driving force amongst alleged progressives which underpinned the attack on marriage which was portrayed as an oppressive force. Secularism was a self-serving philosophy to justify self-regarding social actions. In pursuing the claim that it represented freedom Israel ignores the continuing inhumanity of man towards man which resulted in the obscenity of the Holocaust. Far from producing a better world secularism has excused the continuing failure of human beings to reach perfection because they are incapable of doing so. Israel exacerbates this failure by ignoring the wide-ranging nature of philosophy and concentrating solely on the alleged conflict between revealed religion and science. Criticism is easy, critique requires intellect, Israel fails on both counts.

Instead of being the comprehensive work Israel claims it to be the bibliography suggests the equivalent of written word name dropping with no clear indication of whether the books in question have been read or merely referenced for quote mining purposes. Of course we do not know the extent to which the philosophers of the time operated within their own abstract world. What we do know is that without dissidents within ruling elites ideas would not have succeeded. There never was an idea whose time had come but a train of thought which provided useful for aspiring power seekers. Perhaps the nature of Dutch thinking is sufficiently nebulous to facilitate Israel’s thought claims which is why letsism exists. If any comment summarises the ‘Radical Enlightenment’ it is that of the writer of Revelation 3:16, ‘I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.’ (KJV). Scepticism continues to present itself as rational whereas it is merely opinionated. A useful tome for selective quotation but only for the specialist rather than anyone who wishes to acquire genuine knowledge. Three reluctant points for this shelf filler. Aficionados only and best treated with a heavy dose of scepticism.
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